Are you at the point in your career where you want to put in the effort to excel? Are you looking for direction and goals to move towards senior management roles? Perhaps you’re new to Product Management or would like to launch a product of your own.

The one thing that you should be doing throughout your career is becoming an expert in four key areas:

The Industry

I’m putting this first because it is often overlooked or ignored. People may want to jump right into learning about the customer or product itself but becoming an expert about your market’s industry will give you the confidence you need to make informed decisions.

Your customers and prospects live within the industry. It all likelihood it encompasses everything they do.

Here are a handful of ways to become an expert in your industry:

  • Follow industry leaders. Most likely, these people will be the ones who others look to when making their own decisions. I.e. they’re the ones who will sway the market. What they say and do will permeate throughout the industry. Follow them. Read what they write. Spend time understanding what it is they’re saying about the market and the industry. They’ll have strong opinions and your job should be to figure out what those opinions are so you can have insightful conversations with customers and prospects.
  • Read industry sites. This could be blogs or newsletters. This is NOT community forums. This should come from the leaders or industry experts.
  • Attend lectures and talks. Again, this is about hearing from the leaders. Get out of the building and hear what it is they have to say. What are the hot topics of the moment? What common pains are they facing?
  • Conduct interviews. This could be with current customers or other industry leaders. People are surprisingly open to those who are new and eager to learn. Get them on the phone or ask them for an hour of their time at their office. You’ll be surprised how open and willing they are to help.

The Customer/Client

Clients and customers are the lifeblood of your product. Without them, there would no reason for the product to exist.

The goal here is to get a baseline for who your customers/clients are. What’s important to them. What pains do they have? How often do they have them? Do they need them solved? What do they buy?

Once you have a baseline then you can spend time discovering unique cases. Customers generally fall into a large group and then splinter off into groups with unique, specific ideas and worldviews.

This is probably the most difficult step–and one that is never-ending. Here are a few ways to get to know your clients and/or customers.

  • Conduct customer interviews. You should already be doing this, regardless of your personal/career goals. Interviews are great because you get your customer’s undivided attention. When you get them to open up you can learn a lot. The biggest problem with interviews, however, is that customers are out of their element. They can tend to be focused NOT on their biggest problem because they are not currently “living” them. Customers tend to like interviews because it’s a mental break for a period of time. Getting good at persuading customers to dig deep into their gut to reveal their pains is tough but rewarding.
  • Join communities. Your customers are online, interacting with one another. This is where they open up and reveal the things and issues that bother them the most. This is where they feel comfortable and hear because this is where they get to interact with people like them. Make it a habit to spend time hanging out where your customers do online. Take notes. Collect what is said. Look for patterns. Organize their thoughts. This is where you’ll discover feature and product ideas.

The Prospect

Prospects have different needs than clients. And they come from a different perspective. They are outsiders and don’t have a full understanding of the product.

Hopefully, they will have some knowledge of your company but, of course, this is not always the case. Getting to know prospects can be accomplished by doing one or all of the following:

  • Join in on sale calls. Here you get to see how Sales sells the product and how customers respond. What are their objections? What confuses them? What’s important to them? Etc. This is a helpful entry into seeing things from a fly-on-the-wall perspective.
  • Conduct sales demos. Not much is better than understanding the needs of prospects than conducting demos yourself. Being in the hot seat is a motivator like no other. You’ll better empathize with a prospect and will genuinely want to help solve their problems.
  • Interviewing sales team members. Sale members have more knowledge of the prospects than you may realize. Even if their perspective is not completely in line with yours, getting their feedback will help you see prospects from another lens.

The Product

This one’s obvious. If there’s anyone that should be an expert in the product, it’s you. The goal should be to become the ONE person people know they can turn to answer any question they have about the product–no matter how specific or unique.

  • Technical and functional specifications. It may be your job to write specifications. If it is, revisit them once in a while. If it’s not your job, dedicate an hour or two every week to pick a document to review.
  • Interviewing other stakeholders. Each team member brings a unique perspective to the product. Everything from what is to how it should grow. Understanding these perspectives will help shape your own.
  • Set up and play with demo accounts. This is the classic, “eat your own dogfood.” You need to experience the product from the customers’ perspective. From onboarding on. Customers mature as they use the product and you need to understand every phase they go through. This will not only help you make the product better but will also strengthen your instinctual confidence.

Becoming an expert in these for broad areas–which is a never-ending process, so “expert” should be viewed loosely–will build the foundation for excelling, no matter your career goals.

Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

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